The year 2011 has been proclaimed by the United Nations General Assembly as the International Year of People of African Descent. My first article for this year commemorates this significant event by reviewing some ideas and views that shaped the character and motivated the sacrifices of the greatest African, and the most admired human being, alive today.
Ubuntu is an African concept which means that we are only human through the humanity of others; that if we accomplish anything it will be equally due to the achievements of others. Mandela explained this concept in the Preface to a book, Mandela’s Way, as one which is understood by its author, Richard Stengel, who had collaborated with him in the arduous task of writing Long Walk to Freedom. Mandela’s modesty would not allow him to tell us that he achieved anything in his lifetime. But his explanation of the concept allows him to tell us in a manner as elegant as the man himself, that if Stengel attributes any successes to him, it was equally due to the efforts and sacrifices of his colleagues.
WikiLeaks is a non-profit organization which exposes ‘wrongdoing’ and ‘unethical’ conduct by the publication of official documents from anonymous sources. It has thrown United States diplomacy in turmoil by the release of 250,000 cables of confidential diplomatic communication, with more to come. The cables expose embarrassing comments on world leaders, the private views of allies and friends on national and international issues, the private views, sometimes embarrassing, and concerns of the US about its friends and opponents and instructions by US authorities to spy on diplomats at the United Nations.
WikiLeaks has previously published material from China, Kenya, Iraq and Afghanistan. As a result of its exposures on Iraq the estimated number of civilians killed has had to be increased by 15,000. A new dimension to its work has now been added with the publication of diplomatic cables. From being hailed as a hero, WikiLeaks is now being condemned as placing the security of the US in jeopardy or at least, harming the interests of the US. The US Administration has been working feverishly to limit the damage from the exposures. However, apart from some temporary coldness in its relations with those countries whose leaders have been the subject of negative remarks, no permanent damage is likely to ensue. Administration officials are at pains to play down the potential impact of the leaks, while holding their breath for those which are expected to be made in the coming days.
The announcement by President Jagdeo that Chinese immigrants to Guyana will be given their citizenship in seven years and, in the meantime, will obtain work permits for three years at a time, was greeted with several critical newspaper editorials and unsupportive comments. Nevertheless it is a welcome development.
Over the years there has been a large influx of Chinese nationals into Guyana. Many have moved on to other countries, particularly Canada. But a large number have remained in Guyana, have established permanent residence here and are contributing to the development of Guyana.
Apart from Chinese, there are large numbers of Brazilians who live in Guyana, especially in the mining communities where they are engaged in gold and diamond mining. They might not be as visible as the Chinese because they are mostly in the hinterland and travel across the border rather than to Georgetown. However, enough Brazilians have taken up residence in Georgetown to have made their presence felt, and more are coming.
This third and final part of the review of Colin Palmer’s book, Cheddi Jagan and the Politics of Power, published in October by the University of North Carolina Press, begins with the decade of the sixties and the formation of the United Force. Its leader, Peter D’Aguiar, was not embraced by the British but the Americans gave him a sympathetic ear.
The potent brew of D’Aguiar’s “zealotlike anticommunism,” “increasingly pungent racial divisions,” continuing economic challenges and the victory of the PPP at the 1961 elections, marked the beginning of the decade. The Government’s budget was designed to meet some of the economic challenges. Nicholas Kaldor, an internationally famous tax expert who had advised the governments of Turkey, India, Ceylon, Ghana and Mexico recommended new taxation measures.
Palmer’s conclusion on the budget and the Minister of Finance confirms unbiased opinion even at that time: “Jacob’s budgetary initiatives were driven by the need to make the government solvent……..The minister’s analysis was characterized by considerable depth, a command of the country’s economic condition, and a series of sober measures for its development…..the policy measures he hoped to introduce aroused angry passions reflected the unthinking animus of the newspapers to initiatives associated with the PPP and the demagoguery and irresponsibility of the opposition leaders.”
As a prelude to the privatization of the sugar industry, the Government of President Desmond Hoyte invited Booker Tate to manage it in the hope of arresting its catastrophic decline during the years of the PNC administration. Then as now the sugar industry employed about 20,000 people and provided a substantial portion of Guyana’s GDP and foreign exchange earnings. The plot to privatize, for which no mandate was sought or given at the 1985 general elections, unraveled when the PPP announced that it will not by bound by any such agreement. As it happened, the PPP won the elections, freely and fairly held for the first time since 1968.
The professional management of Booker Tate in the 1990s, the quality of which began to decline in the 2000s, saw a dramatic increase in wages and conditions and increased production. With a guaranteed market in Europe and guaranteed prices, a promising future for sugar once again appeared on the horizon. But dark clouds were beginning to gather. The cost of production remained unsustainably high because of low productivity, aging equipment, soil quality, labour issues and other problems. The growth of globalization was beginning to threaten sugar’s protected regime. A decision had to be taken about the future of sugar.